Heal’s has been designing, making and selling furniture since 1810 and have helped create untold numbers of beautiful homes utilising their expert design advice and service. Here, RLI sits down with Hamish Mansbridge, CEO of Heal’s to discuss what the future holds for a company already over 200 years old.
From experiences offered to customers browsing online or searching in-store, to delivering design direct-to-door, Heal’s draws on over 200 years of expertise and innovation in the design sector so that customers can rest assured the company is here to help and create the home its consumers have always wanted.
The company currently operates one flagship store on Tottenham Court Road, along with five additional showrooms which are located in Kingston, Brighton, Birmingham, Yorkshire and Westfield London and range in size from 5,000 to 20,000sq ft.
“The 42,000sq ft flagship has been here for over 200 years; it is a magnificent space and has some incredible heritage, including the famous Cecil Brewer staircase, (apparently the most photographed staircase in London), the “Sign of the Four Poster” (which people used as a meeting point in the 19th century), the Heal’s Cat and Ambrose café,” says Hamish Mansbridge, CEO of Heal’s.
“Where Design Lives” has become something of a mantra for Heal’s. For customers who are searching for properly designed furniture that is built to last that comes with quality craftsmanship, it is the place to go. In recent years the company has strived to become more of a destination, whether this is online or in-store, with the instore experience beginning from the first greeting. The other big shift in recent times is the transition to frequent online sales, which now account for 40 per cent of transactions.
The most recent store was at Westfield London in May last year. This was a smaller format “showroom” similar to the unit that opened at the Mailbox Birmingham in 2017. The idea behind this latest store was to increase brand awareness to a wider audience while delivering sales at the same time. Both the Mailbox and Westfield stores are part of a wider home offering in the centres, where they are co-located in a “Home Quarter” with similar retailers so visitors to these stores have a real destination to peruse.
As for a store development pipeline, Mansbridge notes there is no defined scope, the current focus is on its e-commerce offering, however any and all opportunities will be reviewed as and when they arise. He explains that furniture stores are expensive spaces, and that recent openings have been smaller format showrooms as these are interesting as space-savers and new concept spaces. However he did concede that it would be great to return to Guildford given the right opportunity.
“Sir Ambrose Heal, who ran the business for 40 years and was knighted for his services to design, used to say: “If in doubt, innovate” and that quote still adorns our office walls today,” says Mansbridge as he talks about how the brand stays relevant over 200 years since opening. “We try to continue that mantra today and you can see it in the products we launch. Of course we take inspiration from the big shows, but equally we have a great team of in-house designers and we also collaborate closely with external designers such as Matthew Hilton and Russell Pinch to produce new pieces.”
The company has gradually increased social media presence in recent times, and is now approaching 100,000 followers on Instagram. They are also beginning to work with bloggers and influencers and ran a campaign called Spaces, where they gave over all the windows at the front of the flagship store to five influential women, bringing them a large amount of coverage in print and online. So why does Mansbridge feel customers remain so fiercely loyal and what sets Heal’s apart from the furniture crowd?
“I think customers appreciate that our brand has been around for so long and stick to what it does best, but we must work at retaining that loyalty. Essentially it comes down to great product; customers invest in a Heal’s piece because they know it is built to last. As for what sets us apart, I believe we provide a fantastic end-to-end service, from the online or in-store experience right the way through to the delivery of furniture which is always fully assembled in the room of choice,” says Mansbridge.
As the topic of Brexit is almost unavoidable in the present climate, this presents the biggest challenge to Heal’s who have a contingency in place, but in reality the business will face up to whatever happens and get on with what it always has, providing fantastic product and brilliant service to its customers. “The other challenge is of course the pace of change in e-commerce. New tools like augmented and virtual reality will become the norm, and we will continue to develop our offering accordingly,” concludes Mansbridge.